Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Mukiwa

A White Boy in Africa

by Peter Godwin

“From time to time a book comes out of Africa that is so good it grips American readers by their hearts. This should be one of them.” –The Washington Post Book World

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 432
  • Publication Date January 15, 2005
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4192-7
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date December 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9493-0
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Rhodesia, 1964: a small boy witnesses the death of his neighbor, murdered by guerrillas–it is the beginning of the end of white rule in Africa. In Mukiwa, Peter Godwin, the witness to that murder, has written “a classic of its genre” (Sunday Telegraph), a vivid and moving account of growing up in a colony rapidly collapsing into chaos.

In unforgettable tales of innocence lost under African skies, we follow Godwin’s awakening to the often savage struggle between whites and blacks, his horror when he is forced to fight in a civil war he detests, and his experiences as a journalist covering the country’s violent transition to black rule as Rhodesia’s colonial era comes to an end and the new state of Zimbabwe is born from its bloody ashes. Mukiwa is a poignant, compelling memoir and an invaluable addition to the literature of southern Africa.

Praise

“A fervid blend of My Traitor’s Heart, Dispatches, and Heart of Darkness, Godwin’s account ranks with some of the finest war reportage of this century.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“From time to time a book comes out of Africa that is so good it grips American readers by their hearts. This should be one of them.” –The Washington Post Book World

Excerpt

One

I think I first realized something was wrong when our next-door neighbour, oom Piet Oberholzer, was murdered. I must have been about six then. It was still two years before we rebelled against the Queen, and another seven years before the real war would start.
I can remember oom Piet’s body lying on the tar road. He was on his back, with the bone handle of a hunting knife sticking out of his chest. Of course I’d seen lots of dead people before, so I wasn’t that impressed. In fact I was proud of my familiarity with death. I used to tell other children stories about it, to boost my popularity.
I knew more than other children about dead people because I went with my mother when she dug them up and cut them open. I was allowed to carry her instruments and also to be the Chief Fly Sprayer, which were quite important jobs, especially for a small boy.
My mother was a doctor and she wore a white coat.

Although most of the people she operated on were alive, some were dead, and these were the ones I helped with.
Oom Piet was the first body that I’d actually known while it was still alive. In that way it was quite interesting. I didn’t know him that well, really. He worked as a shift boss at the factory, and although the Oberholzers lived just down the hill from us, we didn’t see much of them. They were a big Afrikaans family with lots of geese and about seven kids who had names like Hennie and Dawie and Hettie.
The Oberholzers were the poorest white people I knew. They had gone bust trying to farm, and the dominee, the Dutch Reformed minister, had asked my father to give oom Piet a job, any job. They arrived in Silverstream for the first time in a borrowed pick-up truck. We marvelled at the fact that the whole family and all their possessions could fit into one load. We had taken up a whole Trek Removal’s articulated lorry and trailer when we arrived.
A year after they arrived in Silverstream, there was great excitement when a bed was delivered by the weekly RMS – the Road Motor Services lorry. Oom Piet told my father proudly that now for the first time everyone in the family would be able to sleep in a bed of their own.
The Oberholzers had an old blue VW Kombi which had the engine at the back instead of the front. They’d been in that old blue Kombi the day oom Piet was murdered.
They were on their way back from a trip to Umtali, oom Piet and his wife and their youngest daughter – when it happened. The reason for their trip wasn’t in the newspapers – not the old ones or the new ones – but I know it for a fact. We also went to Umtali that day, and we met them on the way.
“Good morning meneer Godwin,” said oom Piet respectfully, to my father.
‘morning OB,” said my father. Only children called him oom Piet. Oom was Afrikaans for uncle.
“How was the holiday?” asked my father. They had just returned from their first family holiday ever, and they were still terribly excited.
“Ach it was really lekker,” said oom Piet, and he began to describe the holiday in great detail, right down to the meals they had eaten and where they’d filled up with petrol. My father cut him short after day two, or we would never have got to Umtali at all.
‘shopping?” enquired my father, conversationally, to show he wasn’t really being rude.
“Ach, not really, meneer, we’re going to collect our holiday photos from Windsor Studios in town, then we’re going to show them to our other kids at school. They’ve never seen photos of themselves before.”
Mrs Oberholzer proudly held up their cheap plastic instamatic camera.
“It’s amazing,” she said in wonder. “You don’t have to focus it or anything. You just point it and press this little red button here. Even I can use it.”
She laughed in a self-deprecating way, and suddenly she lifted the little camera and took a picture of my father and oom Piet leaning against our car. Much later, she sent us that photo, of oom Piet and my father looking startled. Her note said that it was the last picture of oom Piet alive. In spite of the camera manufacturer’s boast, the picture is slightly out of focus. When I looked carefully, I could just see myself in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo, peeping through the car window.
The journey from our house at Silverstream to Umtali, which was the capital of the whole of Manicaland, was about a hundred miles long and it took more than three hours because the road was winding and steep in many places. In those days we still had the old white Austin Westminster, the one that Dad reversed over Bingo the dog and killed him when we were setting off to Melsetter church for a wedding. But he hadn’t done that yet and Bingo was still alive.
On the day oom Piet was murdered, we also met Sir Hugo on our way to Umtali, where tne road goes through his farm just below Skyline Junction. He was burning some fields with his farm boys on the roadside. Sir Hugo Sebright, I was told, was something called an Old Etonian, though he didn’t seem that old, even to me. He looked younger than my father and much, much younger than Old Mr Boshof on Lemon Kop. (Jain had trained me to mutter very fast the chant “You-go-Hugo. You-got-the-shoes-on” whenever we saw Hugo. For some reason we found this hilarious.) Anyway, Sir Hugo was called ‘sir” in a different way to Mr Simpson, the headmaster. We kids called Mr Simpson ‘sir” on its own. When we talked about him to other people we just called him Mister Simpson. We didn’t call him Sir Simpson. And never Sir Jack. It was quite confusing. I fell asleep worrying about it one night, and I decided to ask my father to explain it to me the next morning. But when I woke up I had forgotten all about it.
Anyway, back then, in 1964, Sir Hugo and his wife still lived on their farm in the hills above the Biriwiri valley. Sir Hugo’s wife was not an Old Etonian because she was much younger than him. In fact she looked almost the same age as some of my sister’s friends, and she had long yellow hair and lots of gold jewellery on her ears and fingers, and her nails were long, and painted red. She was called Lady Sebright. As far as I knew she didn’t have a first name.
Sir Hugo leant in at the car window with his signet ring clanking on the glass and he laughed a lot in a snorting sort of way at various things my father was saying. Behind, the gang of farm boys stood resting on their badzas and fire beaters, waiting for him to finish. Before we left, he invited us to drop in for sundowners on our way back from Umtali.
It was late afternoon when our Austin finally crunched up the Sebright’s gravel drive. I was exhausted from a heady day of traipsing around the clothes racks at Meikles department store with my mother and sister, or following my father through the hardware section, picking out clamps and screws and washers of very particular sizes, all of which he had written down on the back of his Gold Leaf cigarette packet. After a lunch-time treat of a toasted cheese sandwich and Meikles’ famous Brown Cow, a drink that consisted of a big blob of vanilla ice cream immersed in a tall glass of Coca-Cola, I had become predictably overexcited and then suddenly deflated.
The Sebright’s house wasn’t finished yet. It was a big ranch-style place with dark wooden floors and a verandah the length of the front. The garden was still being planted and there was raw red earth everywhere. When we arrived I recognized the Oberholzer’s VW Kombi in the drive. They weren’t really friends of the Sebrights, but Sir Hugo had bought the farm from them, and I had overheard my parents saying that Sir Hugo still owed some money to oom Piet. Their daughter was asleep in the Kombi so I never saw her.
Soon gin and tonics and whiskies and sodas and sherries and Castle beers were being distributed to the grown ups. Pottery bowls of salted groundnuts still in their dark wine skins and pewter plates of Willards salt “n” vinegar crisps were handed out. But as I was tired, I collected blair from the car and made for the nearest dog, to have a nap. “Blair” was a sort of security blanket made of mohair that I insisted on hauling around and was unable to sleep without.
At home my usual manner of going to sleep was to lie by the fire with blair and snuggle up to the dogs. But the Sebright’s dog, a skittish Alsatian, became distinctly hostile at the prospect of being used as a pillow by a little boy. I pursued it, trailing my blair, and it grew growly and bared its teeth at me. The less hospitable the dog became, the more fractious and tearful I was until, finally, my mother, having intervened on several occasions, decided it was time to go.
It was a decision that probably saved our lives.
As we swung round the hairpin bends from Tandevel, with the lights of Silverstream twinkling below us at last, a crackling voice began calling us on the radio. We had the radio because my mother was the GMO, the Government Medical Officer, for the whole of the Melsetter district, so she was always on call.
“Blue nine, blue nine, do you read, over?” said the voice on the radio. On the radio they pronounced “nine” with an “er” on the end: “Niner”.
My father stopped the car and fiddled with the knob marked ‘squelch” to try and get a better signal. My father knew a lot about radios and even repaired them in his workshop. He unclipped the mike and, pushing down the button, replied: This is blue niner, reading you strength three, over.”
Strength three was OK reception, but not great. Strength five was the best, but you usually only got that if you were high up on a hill or very near to the person calling you.
“Blue niner, this is police Melsetter here, police Melsetter. We’ve had a code five involving serious injury to an EMA. Location two miles west from Skyline Junction on Umtali road at the 95-mile peg. Could you attend soonest? Over.”
Code five was a car accident and EMA was police language for European Male Adult. My father told them how long it would take us to get there. He called it our ETA, our Estimated Time of Arrival. Then he turned the car around and we headed back up the hill, away from the lights of Silverstream. Dad drove faster than usual, not slowing down for nightjars, birds that came out at night and sat in the road because it was warm there. They mostly managed to fly up just before you ran them over, but sometimes they left it too late. We hit a nightjar that night and I went “urrgh” but no one else said anything. They were all wondering who the EMA would be.
It wasn’t far, ten miles perhaps, to the accident, and I was now wide awake with excitement. At Skyline Junction we turned left back down towards Sir Hugo’s, and there ahead was a shiny police roadblock sign in the road and, standing next to it, an African constable waving a torch slowly back and forth.
“Ah, Doctor Godwin,” he said in recognition, peering through the window, “the member-in-charge is expecting you.”
The old blue Kombi wasn’t blue anymore. It was mostly a charred blackish colour, and it was parked at an odd angle with its front bumper up against the sheer granite cutting, where the road had been sliced through a hilltop. Across the road was a line of rocks, some of them quite big. They were too high for a car to get over and because of the cutting there was no way round. By the side of the Kombi lay a body with a bloodstained jacket covering its top half. The whole scene was lit up by the headlamps of two police Land Rovers, which gave everything long shadows.
The member-in-charge pulled back the jacket and there was oom Piet. His eyes were open and he looked very surprised. His mouth was also open and there was spit dribbling out of the side of it. His shirt, light blue with little paisley patterns on it, was torn and covered in dark blood and the handle of a knife was sticking out of it. On his feet he wore veldskoens, except that one had come off. His sock had a hole and you could see his big toe. It didn’t seem real. We had just left oom Piet drinking a Castle lager with froth on the top, picking groundnut skins from his teeth, and now here he was lying on his back in the road with one shoe off.
I made sure I stayed out of the way, standing back from it all, so I wouldn’t get sent back to the car. My mother touched the side of oom Piet’s neck and nodded to the member-in-charge. They talked for a bit, then she drew oom Piet’s eyelids closed and went back to the Austin to collect her things. She returned wearing her white coat and knelt by the body with a clipboard in her hand. I knew this bit well. On the clipboard was a form called a Sudden Death Docket, which had diagrams of the human body, from the front, from the side, from the back. My mother would draw marks with her pen on the diagram to show where the injuries were. Then she would write a COD report. She always had to do this in police cases, where someone had been killed at a beer drink or in a car accident. Only, oom Piet hadn’t been killed in a car accident.
Now my mother was pulling the knife out of his chest. She was careful not to wipe any fingerprints off the handle. She passed the knife to the member-in-charge and he measured its blade and put it in a plastic bag. My mother drew a cross on the diagram at the left side of the chest, where the heart was. She wrote down “10 inches’. That was the length of the blade. It was a terrific knife, a proper hunting knife with a knobbly beige handle made of bone and a long curved steel blade which peaked to a crest halfway along and swooped down again to a point. Along the side of the blade, away from the cutting edge, there was a channel gouged out of the steel. This was the blood drain, which was there to help the blade go in and out more easily. I wondered if perhaps I could have the knife after they’d finished with it. But I knew not to ask yet.
The constables lifted the body into the back of a Land Rover and all that was left on the road where it had been was a dark patch, which looked like the oil stain you get where trucks have broken down. Mrs Oberholzer and her littlest daughter, who had also been in the Kombi, had already left. They’d been taken to the nearby Road Camp.
Mrs Oberholzer hadn’t yet given a formal statement to the police. She was too upset. But she had told them what happened: the member-in-charge repeated her story to my parents. The Oberholzers had left Sir Hugo’s about twenty minutes after us. It was well after dark as they drove up towards Skyline Junction, when they saw the rocks in the road. At first they thought it was a landslide, a common enough event on Manica-land roads. Oom Piet stopped the Kombi and got out to move the rocks, when all of a sudden a group of Africans, who had been hiding by the side of the road, leapt up and attacked him. She thought there were about eight of them. While some struggled with him, others poured petrol on the Kombi and tried to set it on fire.
At the first sign of trouble oom Piet had shouted to his wife to stay in the car and hide their daughter under the seat. So they never really saw the fighting. They heard the Africans shouting and oom Piet swearing at them and sounds of scuffling. The child whimpered under the seat and Mrs Oberholzer told her to hush. She thought they were all going to die. When some of the gang poured petrol on the Kombi, she kept trying to wipe it away before they could light it. Then they started throwing rocks at her. Finally she heard the sound of an engine and saw the beams of headlights sweep across the hillside as a car approached, and the attackers were gone.
I went with my mother to the Road Camp to see Mrs Oberholzer. She was shaking and shivering like a horse trying to get flies off itself. Her thin frock was dirty and torn and she smelt of petrol. She had a nasty gash on her lip and some of her teeth had been knocked out. Her little daughter was whimpering around her legs. Mrs Oberholzer started crying when we came in, and my mother gave her a hug, then examined her cuts and bruises and got her to swallow some tablets.
“I brushed away the petrol, Doctor Helen,” she said, “and they kept pouring more and trying to light it, you know. And I had to brush it away again.” She made a brushing motion with her arm. They wanted to burn us all, you know.” She repeated this over and over like she was mad or something. Finally the ambulance arrived from Chipinga to collect her. My father ordered the African driver out and said he would take his place because it wasn’t fair to make him drive back when there might be another ambush.
In those early days before the real war started we didn’t call them terrorists yet. We didn’t really have a name for them at all. The constables called them tsotsis, which in English means “thugs’, I suppose. I had no idea what they were really. I thought they were robbers, African highwaymen perhaps.
The member-in-charge was showing my mother a note, which he’d also put in a plastic bag. Since the body had been moved and the main work was over, I risked edging closer. The note was from the tsotsis, and the grown-ups were puzzled by it. No one had heard of anything like it before. I saw it later in the papers, though by then the spelling mistakes had been corrected. The message was written in pencil on a piece of lined paper torn from a school exercise book.
This is the work of the Clocadile Gang, it said. We will keep on fighting until all white setlars are going and our land is returned. VIVA CHIMURENGA!
VIVA CHIMURENGA! was heavily underlined.
The member-in-charge shook his head at the note.
“Bunch of bloody ignoramuses, “clocadile” for God’s sake. They can’t even spell the name of their own gang, and they want to rule the country!”
He shouted over to the huddle of constables. “Anyone heard of a bunch of tsotsis called the “Clocadile Gang”?” He deliberately emphasized the misspelling.
They shook their heads and murmured denials.
None of the Europeans knew what chimurenga in the note meant. The member-in-charge turned to his black sergeant.
“What’s all this chimurenga business, sergeant?”
The sergeant took the note and read it by the light of his torch. He looked uncertain.
“Well, sah, it is the word for the old Shona rebellion in 1896. But I think it can mean any rebellion.” He paused and handed the note back. ‘maybe this is a new rebellion?”
I noticed now that the member-in-charge was also armed. He had a pistol in a blue canvas holster on his belt. The holster flap was fastened with a popper and he kept fiddling with it, opening and closing it, opening and closing. There was much talking on the radio and various police vehicles came and went but it had been decided that it was too dangerous for us to drive home, with the Crocodile Gang still roaming around in the area. We would have to wait for morning.
The African constables had found a rusty 44-gallon drum with holes punctured in its side, left behind by the Roads Department. They built a fire inside it using wood they’d collected in the bush nearby. It was cold now and they stood around the fire watching it crackle and burst into showers of sparks, rubbing their hands together over it and smoking Star cigarettes, cheap non-filters which my father said tasted like camel dung. The wood smoke kept getting in my eyes but it didn’t seem to bother them at all. I knew most of them by name, but only their first names, which is what you called them by. Detective Sergeant Solomon was my friend. He was in SB, police for Special Branch, so he didn’t have to wear a uniform like the others. Tonight he looked like a giant in a heavy trench coat and a green balaclava helmet pulled down over his head.
Someone had produced a big coil of boerewors and Solomon was cooking it on the fire drum. A thermos with sweet tea was being passed round and constables were pouring it into their chipped enamel mugs. When the sausages were ready, I sat with Solomon on the whitewashed wall of the culvert. We ate in silence, waiting for the light. No one slept. My mother kept trying to get me to settle down in the back seat of the Austin but I didn’t feel tired any more.
It gets light very quickly in Africa. One minute it’s night and then the earth turns a bit more and suddenly it’s the morning. And the morning has no memory. This morning was bright and sunny as though nothing had gone wrong the night before.
We heard the sound a long time before we saw anything. A deep throbbing which grew slowly louder. Everyone was scanning the sky and then there they were, two big grey aeroplanes droning along the Biriwiri valley. They were Dakotas. Sometimes they’re called DC3s. I knew because I had the Airfix model hanging from my bedroom ceiling. I had all the types of aircraft used by the Royal Rhodesian Air Force: a Hawker Hunter, a Vampire, a Canberra bomber and an Allouette helicopter, which was made in France.
As the planes got closer, the sun’s reflection turned their grey fuselages into bright silver and it hurt your eyes to look at them directly. They circled slowly a couple of times and then dozens of soldiers were jumping out, one after the other, in a long line. Soon the sky was filled with white billowing parachutes, each one with a soldier swinging below it. It was a thrilling sight and I watched transfixed. Even Solomon the Special Branch sergeant, who was pretty cool about most things, seemed quite impressed.
The soldiers landed on the slopes below us and we could see them gathering up their parachutes and packing them into their rucksacks. After a few minutes, they fanned out in a long line and set off down the valley to search for the Crocodile Gang.
Willie, the leader of the Crocodile Gang, had been trained in Moscow, the police said, and they didn’t seem to be able to find him anywhere. He was an Ndau from our area. His full name was Willie Ndangana, and it turned out that he was the “blood brother” of Knighty, our cook boy. In those days we called African men “boys’. We had cook boys and garden boys, however old they might be. African nannies were called girls.
To be “blood brothers’ you both made cuts on your arms or faces and mixed your blood together. After that there was a small ceremony, and then it was as though you were related. (I had become blood brothers with Jeremy Watson who lived at the bottom of the village, even though he was older than me. I still bear the penknife scar today.)
The police phoned my father and warned him that Knighty was related to Willie of the Crocodile Gang. They wanted to arrest Knighty and take him to the police station for questioning, but Dad said no. Knighty had been our cook boy for years and, though he could be quite bad-tempered sometimes, he wasn’t a terrorist.
He did get quite cross once when I asked him about his name. I’d just learnt to read and I was questioning him rather pompously about it. I wanted to know if it was spelt Nighty, like the night that follows day, or Nightie, like those my mother and Jain wore to bed, or Knighty, like Knights in armour. I never found out. He just went “tssk,” clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, which is one way Ndau people showed you they were annoyed. And he stalked off to the servants’ quarters.
He was probably cross because he thought I was making fun of him, as he couldn’t read or write. At the end of each month when Dad paid him he used to sign the wages book, in the column headed ‘received”, with just a wobbly “X”.
It is true that Knighty did look very fierce indeed. He had magnificent tribal markings, half a dozen dark purple scars that fanned out like cat’s whiskers on either cheek. I greatly coveted his fierce demeanour, and begged to be given tribal scars of my own, but he said I had to wait until I grew up before I could be awarded them.
A few days after the murder, Special Branch came to our house to interview Knighty. It wasn’t Detective Sergeant Solomon, but other Special Branch men all the way from Umtali, an African and a European. I wasn’t allowed to watch but I asked Knighty about it later. They wanted to know when he had last seen Willie and who his friends were. They questioned him for over an hour. Knighty seemed quite cross about it. He hardly knew Willie, he said. He hadn’t really seen much of him since they’d grown up together in Chikakwa, which was part of the Muwushu Native Reserve. Willie had gone to a mission school. Knighty hadn’t gone to school.
Willie himself, it emerged, had once worked, under a different name, for my father at one of the Rhodesian Wattle Company estates as a welfare officer. He was known to all the labourers by the chiLapalapa title, lo teacher ka lo football – the football teacher – because managing the company’s soccer team was the welfare officer’s main responsibility.
Special Branch had given my father a police “WANTED” notice offering a reward for Willie. It was published by special gazette, in bold red type. Normally gazettes were in black type, my father explained, but this was an urgent one, sent to all stations and police reserve section leaders. After he had finished with it, he gave it to me. I planned to read it to the servants after supper, but when I practised reading it, the text proved too difficult for me.
Once supper was cleared away, I went round the back of the house to the Rhodesian boiler, where Knighty and I used to sit on the logs and discuss important matters. It was a big brick fireplace with a 44-gallon drum on a platform above the fire. The fire heated the water in the drum for our baths. You adjusted it by pushing the long wattle logs further in or pulling them back.
The dogs settled down by the warmth and Knighty and Albert and Violet gathered round with their sleeping babies. I showed them the reward notice and they turned it over and studied it intently, and, convinced of its authenticity, handed it back. Then I gave it to Violet, who was the best reader among us. With some difficulty and the occasional stumble, she began to read it aloud by the flicker of the boiler fire.
“At about six-thirty on Saturday, 4th July 1964, at a point nineteen miles from Melsetter, on the Umtali road, Petrus Johannes Andries Oberholzer was murdered, by stoning and stabbing, when attempting to remove a roadblock.
“The undermentioned African is urgently sought by police.”
She held up the photo for all of us to see. It was of a serious-looking black man in a trilby. He was wearing round, wire-framed glasses, a neckerchief and a thick tweed jacket, and he regarded the camera very directly through widely spaced brown eyes.
“William, alias Mutandani, alias Hlebeni (may also use the name of Lovemore), 20910 Chipinga.”
This last was his ‘situpa” or identity card number – only Africans had to carry them, we didn’t. Then came his description.
“Tribe: Ndau, chief: Musikavanhu, kraal: Mukondo, father: Hlebeni, height: 5ft 7in. to 5ft 9in.; aged twenty-five to twenty-eight years; build: slim to medium: brown complexion; flat nose; broad thick lips; pierced ears and may have small beard. May wear spectacles with ornamental frame on top and open glass at the bottom …
“Alleged to have worn the following clothes recently; Grey/blue trousers; green jersey; white shirt; black leather half-coat, with broken zip fastener; brown pointed suede shoes with five toe protectors on each.”
Then there were some details about his wife, Gladys, and the fact that William had recently returned from Northern Rhodesia, where he had been employed as a carpenter.
“William has a brother,” continued the reward notice, “African Constable Dumisani, stationed at Salisbury Central, who has been absent without leave since Tuesday, 7th July 1964 … He is about twenty-two years of age, height 6ft, weight approximately 190 pounds and may be in possession of a guitar, which he can play.”
Violet handed the reward notice back to me, and we sat in silence for a while, listening to the raucous croaking of the frogs in the stream and the wattle trees rustling in the plantation behind the garden.
“I’ve never seen a policeman playing a guitar,” I said. “What kind of tunes would a policeman play?”
No one seemed to know. Albert and Violet got up and he helped her carry her sleeping babies to bed in the servants’ quarters at the end of the garden.
Knighty and I stayed while he finished his cigarette. He smoked them right down to the very end, pinching the edge of the paper between the nails of his thumb and forefinger.
“I wonder where Willie is now?” he asked, and blew two streams of smoke out of his nostrils.
“The police think he’s run away to Mozambique,” I said.
Knighty flicked his cigarette butt into the boiler and we got up off our logs, pulled them out of the fireplace, and bid one another a mangwana – until tomorrow. As we left, the dogs were curling up on the warm ash for the night.
Oom Piet’s funeral was held in the Dutch Reformed church in Umtali. My father went ahead to help with the arrangements. I was allowed to go with him and we gave one of the little Oberholzer boys a lift. Because it was his father’s funeral, he was allowed to sit in front, while I was relegated, grumbling, to the back seat. He was about eight and he had been dressed up in a pair of Bata tackies, long khaki shorts, a white shirt and a short wide tie, the first time he had worn such a thing. He kept plucking at it until it was all wrinkled and damp. For most of the trip he sat dry-eyed and silent, peering solemnly out of the window just above the sill. On the edge of Chipinga we passed through the bustling African township, with its crowds of blacks waiting in bus queues, shopping at market stalls, and walking along the dusty streets. The Oberholzer boy turned from the window and addressed my father for the first time.
“You know, my uncle shot a kaffir once,” he said. “But it was OK because he had a licence.”
Then he lapsed back into his reverie for the rest of the journey